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Federal lawsuit details alleged abuse of first grader by principal for having gay parents

Milwaukee Public Schools administration, school board looked the other way, according to complaint

Milwaukee Public Schools Administration Building
Charles Edward Miller (CC-BY-SA)

A Milwaukee Public Schools principal allegedly physically and verbally abused a first grade student because his parents are gay, according to a federal lawsuit. 

The complaint, filed March 22 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, alleges Kasongo Kalumbula told the student, referred to as G.L., his parents would “burn in hell,” and threatened to kill him if he told anyone about it. 

Kalumbula was G.L.’s assistant principal at Milwaukee French Immersion School at the time of the alleged incidents.

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“He declined to protect G.L. when other students bullied him for having gay parents and targeted the boy with harsh and damaging discipline, once locking him in a dark room for hours,” according to the complaint.

The lawsuit also details several times when G.L.’s parents reached out to MPS administrators and school board members for help but did not receive it. Instead, Kalumbula was promoted.

“Despite knowing of this pattern, MPS Administration and the Board of School Directors fail to take action to train or supervise district employees in order to prevent discriminatory and abusive conduct,” said G.L.’s attorney, Elisabeth Lambert. “Instead, MPS Administration routinely conducts sham investigations that function to conceal the truth and protect employees from facing meaningful consequences for their conduct.”

WPR reached out to Kalumbula, who is now principal of MPS’s Mary McLeod Bethune Academy, MPS Superintendent Keith Posley and School Board President Marva Herndon. 

MPS spokesperson Nicole Armendariz responded, saying the district couldn’t comment on the circumstances of individual students and their families. 

“The district takes its responsibility for students seriously and acts when issues are identified,” Armendariz said. 

An alleged history of discrimination

Kalumbula has worked for MPS as an administrator since at least 2015. During that time, multiple employees, students and parents have complained to MPS administration and school board members that Kalumbula engages in homophobic language, according to the complaint. 

He was a vice principal at Milwaukee French Immersion School from September 2018 until October 2021.

While at French Immersion, at least two LGBTQ+ staff members left the school because of Kalumbula’s discriminatory attitudes and conduct toward them. Three families with LGBTQ+ parents also unenrolled their children from the school, according to the complaint. 

In August 2020, when the Milwaukee school board directed schools to provide instruction to students on matters of diversity and inclusion, including sexual orientation and gender identity, Kalumbula allegedly objected to the requirement.

“Kalumbula instructed several teachers to contact all (French Immersion) parents, including LGBTQ+ parents, and encourage them to have their children opt out of the class activities that addressed sexual orientation,” according to the complaint. “Several teachers objected to this directive from Kalumbula because they believed it would convey a message of discrimination and exclusion to LGBTQ+ families and their children.” 

Meanwhile, G.L. was being bullied by other students for his parents being gay. When G.L. became angry, Kalumbula, allegedly told him “most people in America do not agree with your parents’ lifestyle.” 

“G.L. was devastated and traumatized by Kalumbula’s statements,” according to the complaint. “In the early summer of 2021, G.L. suffered a panic attack while on vacation at Disney World with his family. The panic attack was triggered because G.L. saw a gay couple holding hands. G.L. began shaking, sobbing violently, and asking his parents if the gay couple he saw would “burn in hell” as Kalumbula had told him.” 

When Kalumbula left French Immersion, other parents and teachers blamed G.L.’s parents on social media.

“The hostility was so severe that (the parents) disenrolled their children from the school before the end of the school year and moved them to a different school district,” according to the complaint. “G.L. remains in treatment for anxiety and trauma arising from Kalumbula’s treatment of him. He suffers recurring nightmares.” 

G.L.’s family is seeking compensatory and punitive damages.